Using digital platforms to collect health research data

Background: We live in an increasingly digital world in which we learn, work, socialise, travel and shop using digital platforms that connect individuals and groups directly. In contrast our systems of health and social research remain rooted in data collection systems that rely on labour-intensive face-to-face data collection methods.  These methods are limited by capacity of the research team to recruit and follow up participants. Data collection tends to be episodic, capturing single reports of what are often complex constructs of health and well-being. For example single mental health questionnaires will fail to capture the dynamic changes of mood and mental health. Employing researchers to collect the data is also expensive and potentially inefficient when much of the information sought can be better recorded by participants or clinicians.

Digital platforms by contrast offer novel approaches for improving the efficiency of implementing research projects and capturing more accurate and timely participant reports. Around 70% of the UK population now has access to a smartphone (Deloitte 2015) which opens up research studies to large and varied populations who can provide reports of health and wellbeing more regularly and at their own convenience. The technology embedded in smart phones such as GPS and accelerometry provides remote monitoring of objective movement and activity, whereas video technology can be used as a systematic observation tool.

Aims: This study aims to explore the development of digital applications for recruitment and participation in health research. 

Progress: A systematic scoping review is underway to understand which digital platforms (e.g. apps on smartphones, tablets) have previously been used with which populations (age, sex, country, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and health status) to collect what data for health research (e.g. questionnaire, accelerometry, GPS data). The review will also assess the feasibility and acceptability of the apps. 


A qualitative study to explore the acceptability, barriers and incentives/attractors to using health data collection apps across a range of populations that represent different ages, sexes, ethnicities, socio-economic status’ and health status’ in Bradford, West Yorkshire.



Design and develop an app that can be modified and used for recruitment and data collection across different populations.